Miriam Balance

A Journey to Equilibrium

Trust the Process

Quite a few years ago, a girl I knew back then told me about the intriguing concept of “retox-days” – you know, the kind of day where you crash off the band wagon without any reservations just to jump back on the next day with renewed vigor and replenished energy reserves (well, in theory); the day when, because you have already crashed and burned, you treat yourself to another slice of pizza with a double ice-cream chaser and stuff your mind with similarly nutrient-deficient junk randomly found on social media or a streaming service of your choosing?
Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, more power to you! If it does though, know you’re not alone. Don’t let it dictate the outcome of your story.

Stay focused. And if you lose focus, don’t dwell on it. That moment is gone already, and if you hold on to it, you might just lose another one…

Personally, I believe that we’re all faced with the odd obstacle, internally as well as externally. And in a way, aren’t they what make the process more interesting, the subsequent success even sweeter?

Here are some of my recent favourites: the temptation of unhealthy foods and the harsh and heavy come-down from the sugar-high spiked with self-pity about the fact that all of my efforts will forever be in vain because I will never be a Russian teenage gymnast, an Olympic athlete or a Cirque du Soleil performer. The moment when, from the impossible to the improbable, the mind starts coming up with pointless excuses of why I might simply give up right then and there: because I was always picked last in school and should’ve recognized years back that there is no single talented bone in my body, because I’m too old and started too late, too chubby, too broke or too broken or because I’ve missed my window to actually do circus arts at a high level…

And then I remind myself: It is not about that single day or that single obstacle that made me stumble. It’s about the pattern, the process!

Through a set of very lucky circumstances, I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the best handbalancers in the world, Andrey Moraru and Jaakko Tenhunen from Room 21 Balancing and while it was mainly extremely inspiring, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the slight frustration in seeing these masters of their craft perform feats with ease that still elude me, and probably will for at least another few years. However, their dedication and love for the art they make and the lessons they teach have inspired me once more to carry on dreaming, and dreaming big at that. Here’s a little write-up of the workshop at The Gym Aschaffenburg:

Now after I had been sore and inspired to an extent I hadn’t quite felt since my circus school days, I really wanted to attend their next workshop in Barcelona this weekend, however, after recently having moved back to my home country Germany to finish the studies I quit in 2013 to pursue my dream of circus (don’t worry, there’s not much uni but a hell of a lot of circus left in me, so no giving up here anytime soon), I was flat out broke and there was no chance of going to Barcelona… or was there?

Being the dreamer I am and knowing a bunch of successful street performers, I decided to try my luck and bring my Buugeng, Hula Hoop and even handstand canes to the streets of Frankfurt in order to get some serious money together for a weekend-trip to Barcelona. I read up on local rules and regulations and did a little warm-up set, leaving me with around 8€ in my hat, which wasn’t the world but not a bad start for the first 10 minutes I guessed, when in the heat of the Frankfurt afternoon sun and the flow of movement, I spotted three policemen, fast and directly approaching, shutting me down before I could really get started, explaining that I had no right to perform to music from a speaker, no matter how loud or quiet it was.

Just when a crowd was starting to build, I got barred for the day and called lucky for not having to pay the horrendous fine that usually accompanies this fate. I had barely made half the train-fare for the day.
While I internally vowed to return to the streets more well-equipped, alas without the speaker, this would likely not help me for a workshop that took place so soon…

One of my rare moments of being a street performer

The very same evening, a small miracle happened and it came, as they do, in an all-inclusive deal of inner turmoil, moral responsibility and temporarily paralysing self-doubt:

Along with my ever supportive mum, a mere acquaintance offered me a sum of money that would allow me to fly to Barcelona and participate in the workshop. I fought back, saying I didn’t want to take it and I hated being indebted and that it simply felt wrong to do something I couldn’t personally afford to pay for. He didn’t stop teasing me about it all evening. When I got brisker with him, telling him that I had no idea when or even if I would be able to repay him, he said he’d simply give it to me, no strings attached, because apparently, he stated “You really want to go, don’t you?” – and of course I did, but – oh, the sheer amount of BUT! He went on to explain:
“It seems silly to me that you wouldn’t do something you really want to do simply because of money. To me, it isn’t worth anything. It’s simply sitting there in my bank account.”

Three hours of playing cards and being extremely stubborn later, I remembered Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk and book “The Art of Asking,” essentially teaching that it is OK to take an opportunity, a gift or simply an offer of help freely given and all you do in return is vow to make the best of it and grab it with both hands. Nobody made it on their own. We aren’t islands. So maybe, I hadn’t been given the opportunity to train at a circus school from a tender age, or even the opportunity to receive a student loan when I first applied for the National Centre of Circus Arts in London back in 2015, and I probably missed out on plenty of others. I usually try not to focus on advantages I didn’t have, because it is a waste of time since all I can ever do is work with exactly what I’ve got. But if there was a surprising, no-strings-attached gift coming my way, helping me move forward in a direction I desired, wouldn’t it be simply dumb to say no? And so, losing card game after card game against him, I finally said: yes, thank you.

And tomorrow, I will be flying out to Barcelona, the city where my handstand journey first began back in 2014 – and what an inconspicuous debut it was! I was lucky that the introductory program at the Spanish circus school Escola de Circ Rogelio Rivel in Barcelona, had accepted my heavy ass in the first place, what with me not speaking much Spanish, not being able to do a single pull-up, the splits or having any other circus-relevant knowledge except for being able to do a mediocre fire show and some basic object manipulation.

Life before handstands

Surprisingly, the obligatory handstand classes quickly became one of my favourite activities, despite (or was it because of?) the never-ending physical torture and loud, presumably encouraging shouting in a language I didn’t understand. I don’t remember much about my very first handstand teacher, except for his lasting disappointment in my undynamic lower half. While I just about mustered enough strength to kick up into a handstand on the floor, jumping up with both feet at the same time, or worse, jumping into a handstand on small wooden blocks, was still beyond me. So it probably came as no surprise that his idea of doing a session on actual handstand canes, wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm on my part. Dreading the humiliation and terrified of landing on my back when falling out of a handstand from the added height, I approached the canes with a healthy mix of respect, incredulity and sheer terror while my short and uneventful handstand career was flashing before my very eyes.

Back in those days, balance was only ever a still from a video.

Filled with dread, I was walking up to the handstand canes, closing my hands around their smooth blocks and trying to jump as high as I could. My teacher grabbed hold of my hips and dragged them up, allowing me to magically arrive in a shape that, albeit heavily supported by his efforts and strength, somewhat resembled a handstand. My teacher however, wasn’t as pleased with this result as I was, and while I am sorry to admit that I do not remember his name, I remember how every time he dragged me up into a handstand on the high canes, he told me to jump. “One day, Miriam,” he would say in heavily accented English, “you’re gonna kill me.”

Art on the wall near my very first circus school in Barcelona

While I never did any harm to the man except for being bad at handstands, I was still shocked when he simply didn’t return to class one Monday. He had died in a motorcycle accident during the weekend.
Truth be told, I sometimes imagine that, wherever his spirit is now, he watches over me proudly hopping up onto my canes under my own power. I hope that he knows that, despite my slow learning and weak jumping, I never gave up and that his lessons, along with his efforts in broken English and his pulling my heavy hips up high will never be forgotten and live on in my heart and handstands.

I have since had the pleasure to work with many other accomplished teachers

My second teacher in Barcelona? He, in turn, had a lot of faith in my yet-to-be-developed capacity for balance. So much in fact, that in one of the rare split seconds my body chose to find equilibrium, he got distracted and removed his hands, dropping my uncoordinated body – gullibly relying on its spotter at this point – directly onto the ledge of the table that our practice canes were placed on. The hole-shaped scars on my shins remind me of the early days of my handstand journey to this very day.

What stuck with me most, however, was the stillness I found in the little moments of rare balance. While for most of my waking life, there was always some voice or other animatedly chattering away inside my head, looking down at a focus point in between my hands and simply feeling my body in balance completely shut it up. It was hard work, yes, but once I found myself in a handstand, there was nothing but complete, utter silence, and that was the most beautiful thing.

Still looking for balance, and moments of stillness.

Today, I sometimes have to focus on that stillness, allow it in instead of simply ticking of drill after drill (not that they don’t have their place), and go with the flow of handbalancing in motion but the more I give to my practice, the more it gives back to me, and I am grateful for every little bit of progress on this journey, for every day I am given the gift of time and a healthy body to dedicate to it, for every practitioner I meet and connect with, every child or even adult I miraculously manage to inspire and every teacher I am honoured to learn from.

What I am trying to say is: Trust the process. Never lose hope. Never stop believing, dreaming, and working as hard as you possibly can for those dreams to become reality. It will pay off. There might not always be huge breakthroughs, spontaneous miracles or golden opportunities, but it will pay off.

A handful of years later

I can’t wait to return to Barcelona this weekend, where it all began some short five years ago and wonder what my handstand journey will throw at me next…




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